Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Montero for Pineda swap

Last night the Yankees agreed to send Jesus Montero along with Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. As a Yankee fan, I must admit to being a bit surprised by this transaction since I figured we would finally get a full season of Montero in pinstripes, but looking at this trade on a long-term basis things seem to make sense for both sides.

The Mariners currently have a wealth of young starting pitchers with both Danny Hultzen and James Paxton expected to be added to the rotation by 2013 as well as 19 year old prospect Tijuan Walker arguably having the most upside among all pitchers currently in the low minors. Combine this with the pitching friendly confines of Safeco Field and one can see this franchise being able to replenish its pitching staff easier than others.

Pineda has all the makings to be a consistent ace, but his age and late season struggles do point to some drawbacks. In his rookie year last season, Pineda came out strong overpowering hitters with his fastball command that could reach into the high 90’s (his four-seam fastball had the average velocity of 94.6) as well as a wipe-out slider that generated a high whiff rate against opposing hitters from both sides of the plate. His one major weakness has been his lack of a legitimate change-up. This could prove troublesome especially for a pitcher with such an extreme home-road split who now must learn to overpower opposing left-handed hitters in a park that is generous to power from that side. Utilizing an effective change-up will help, but he has been effective with his slider which produced a 32.4 percent whiff rate as well as a groundball rate above fifty percent from lefties last season.

The trouble for the M’s have been offense and with issues at DH and Justin Smoak performing less than expected – the addition of Montero will give this team some offensive upside for 2012 and beyond.

Montero does project as an above average hitter, but with his positional limitations as well as being a right-handed hitter now playing half his games in Safeco, his value could be dicey. For the Mariners to get the maximum amount in this deal, it’s imperative they take a long look at him as a catcher in 2012. If that turns out to be a failure, the team still has first base to fall back on – assuming that Smoak is no longer an everyday player (which could be unfair still given his age, power potential and manageable strikeout rate).

The Yankees have been quiet this offseason leading many to believe that the team’s announcement to reduce payroll over the next few seasons could be a legitimate goal. Looking beyond 2012, the Yankees have a lot of money tied up in aging veterans and if the Yankees truly saw Montero as nothing more than a DH/occasional 1B he could be difficult to roster over the next few seasons as players like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter creep closer to age 40.

Using a piece like Jesus Montero while his trade value remains high for Michael Pineda keeps their former clubs from overpaying for these needs this offseason. The Mariners have flirted with the idea of buying into the services of Prince Fielder, but his hefty price tag and long-term commitment could be troublesome down the road. This point is further heightened as other teams in its division such as the Angels and Rangers operate with higher revenues.

On the flip side, the Yankees need quality starters to balance out its rotation, but the premium price placed on All-Star pitching would either continue to drive their payroll abnormally high or cost them quality prospects (something the Yanks were made aware of in its pursuit of Gio Gonzalez last month). These options are untenable for a team looking to get leaner while still staying competitive in 2014

Like the Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett swap in 2007, this trade will be fiercely debated on both sides and it will be interesting to see how things end up in a few years.

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